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Flaws in Iraqi Police Contract Raise Questions About Afghan Effort

by Christine Spolar

In a report that offers lessons for the growing war in Afghanistan, the inspector general overseeing Iraqi reconstruction efforts has found major flaws in the State Department's oversight of a $2.5 billion contract to help build Iraq's police force.

The State Department does not have enough people in Iraq to monitor the work or track the money being spent by DynCorp International,  according to the audit issued Monday by Stuart W. Bowen Jr., the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. One contracting officer in Iraq oversees all receipts and task orders, with no time to visit work sites or to ensure payroll accuracy. At least $1 billion in past invoices have yet to be reconciled, part of a backlog of work that State has promised for years to fix.

"We are questioning what value the government got for $2.5 billion," Bowen said in an interview.

The report said that the entire contract was "vulnerable to waste and fraud" because of the poor oversight. The State Department, in a written response, said that conclusion was "unfounded" and not substantiated in the report.

DynCorp, which provides services to the U.S. government and military in hot spots around the world, has been under contract since 2004 to support police training in Iraq and Afghanistan. The contract is the single largest in State Department history, according to the inspector general.

The price tag for Afghanistan under the contract so far is $437 million, according to State Department records. The cost of police training there is expected to soar along with the growing American military presence. Training and enlarging the Afghan national police force is a key element of the Obama administration's plan to shift security to the Kabul government and eventually allow the United States to draw down its troops.

DynCorp spokesman Douglas Ebner stressed that the report addressed only the State Department's oversight and not the company's work. "The basic point is the audit did not look at performance," Ebner said. "We are performing under the contract and we are training Iraqi police."

The report, one of a series of reviews of U.S. efforts in training foreign security forces,  triggered swift criticism of the State Department from lawmakers who oversee wartime contracting.

"They've been managing this contract in Iraq since 2004 and, according to this report, they have no idea where any of the money went," Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), chair of a Senate subcommittee that monitors contracting. "What's even worse is that these are the same people responsible for police training in Afghanistan, so I don't have any confidence that they're doing a better job there."

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), senior Republican on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, called the findings "simply outrageous" and illustrated "the need to move quickly and systemically to reform how the government manages federal contracts."

The State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs is responsible for overseeing the contract. In a written response to the audit, State officials said invoices were reviewed both in Iraq and Washington to prevent fraud. Nineteen percent of invoices are rejected during the Washington review, the department said.

The department acknowledged that, after a critical audit in 2007, it had promised to increase the number of contract officers in Iraq to 11. But that group remains at three people, State officials said, because of space constraints at the embassy in Baghdad.

The report released Monday is the first of two audits expected to focus on police training in Iraq by the inspector general. A joint State and Defense inspector general report of the DynCorp contract is expected by the end of the month. Multiple audits of U.S. efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan in the past years have documented waste and flaws in government oversight.

Contractors are expected to surge in number as the U.S. military increases the training of police and army in Afghanistan. According to testimony last month before the independent Commission on Wartime Contracting, the number of U.S. defense contractors in Afghanistan is expected to reach 160,000 this year, more than the number of U.S. troops.

The Defense Department is poised to take over the police training contract in Afghanistan from the State Department, a move that has been portrayed in public hearings as an attempt to accelerate training critical to an anticipated U.S. withdrawal.

The Obama administration has envisioned an Afghan army that would number 134,000 by the end of this year and grow to 240,000 in 2013. The Afghan national police currently stand at 96,800 with a proposal to expand to 160,000 by 2013, according to recent Pentagon testimony.

Training of security forces has been particularly tough in Afghanistan where, unlike Iraq, education is limited and literacy is hard to calculate. Official estimates suggest about 30 percent of the Afghan population is literate. Diplomats and military who have worked in the region believe about 10 to 20 per cent of the population can read, write and count at a sufficient level for security training.

Police recruits are decidedly less proficient than military recruits, they said, and will be particularly challenging to train. "Afghanistan is not Iraq," one general told the wartime contracting commission during a hearing in December. 

Auditors who recently traveled to Iraq described the oversight of DynCorp's police training support as "extremely weak. " Invoice review, property control, and lease negotiations were all problematic, they said. Invoices were stuffed in boxes without review, auditors said, and thousands of timesheets were found not signed by supervisors or employees.

One staffer whose job was to approve purchase orders was found in November 2009 to have a backlog of over 700 orders, according to the report.

State's contract officers also negotiated storage, land and housing facilities at excessive rates, auditors said. In one instance cited in the report, the State representative and DynCorp prepared a lease agreement for land at a cost that was seven times what the U.S. embassy considered the going rate.

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